Almond Celebrates Fifteen Years With a Party and Benefit

The owners and business partners, Eric Lemonides and Jason Weiner, the chef, have been friends since they were 5 and 6 growing up in Brooklyn
Whether renovating a shed-like building for their first location or taking over the grander and more proportional space they now occupy on Ocean Road, the partners in Almond (below from left, Jason Weiner, Almond Zigmund, and Eric Lemonides) have always brought high style to their casual bistro settings. Eric Striffler and Daniel Gonzalez Photos

Almond Restaurant has been a part of our community, specifically Bridgehampton, for 15 years, a staggering accomplishment in an environment where restaurants open and close every season. The owners and business partners, Eric Lemonides and Jason Weiner, the chef, have been friends since they were 5 and 6 growing up in Brooklyn. 

 

On Tuesday they plan to have a three-pronged event to celebrate this milestone for the restaurant that was named after Mr. Weiner’s then girlfriend, Almond Zigmund, who is now his wife. (A risky and bold action, but it’s worked out just fine, thank you very much.) April 12 also happens to be the birthday of Mr. Weiner and Ms. Zigmund’s daughter, Rive. Family and friends will celebrate Rive’s eighth birthday, then at 7 the restaurant will host a benefit for Eric Striffler, a photographer who lost everything in a recent fire. And this, in a nutshell, demonstrates why Almond is an ongoing success story: It turned a celebratory, pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-lasting-so-long event into an evening to help a member of the community in need.

There are three Almonds now. Besides the location in Bridgehampton, there is one in TriBeCa, one in the Flatiron district, and the L&W Oyster Co. in NoMad. To what do the owners attribute their success? Interviewed separately, their answers were remarkably similar, perhaps not surprising for partners who have worked together seamlessly for so long.

Mr. Lemonides runs the “front of the house” as it’s called in the restaurant biz. “We’re unpretentious, simple, warm, welcoming, fun. We don’t take it seriously, except for the fun part. If someone calls and says ‘We’ll be late for our reservation!’ we tell them ‘So what? It’s only dinner, get here when you can.’ ” Of course, this seemingly breezy attitude is the result of a lifetime of hard work in restaurants.

“It’s also our hiring philosophy,” he said. “We only get people who want to work here, and they stay. In 15 years we’ve only had three people working the door. . . . We don’t have tablecloths or TV sets. A**holes like tablecloth restaurants. We don’t get any a**holes here.”

And then there’s Mr. Weiner, whom I have never seen out of his chef garb and Amber Waves cap. We have worked numerous charity events together, and he is always coming from the restaurant and about to head back to the restaurant. His dedication and passion for local ingredients are evident. In summer, you can count on 90 percent of what is on your plate having come from within a four-mile radius. He reiterated Mr. Lemonides’s philosophy: “We just try to give people an experience based on warmth, honesty, and conviviality. The most important thing about the restaurant is the people. We’ve made amazing relationships with growers, baymen, and artisans, and, of course, our customers. We’ve been blessed with a super loyal bunch.”

The dishes at Almond are truly, authentically bistro-style: frisee and lardon salad, duck confit, steak frites, escargots, pots de creme. They are gutsy and savory, comforting and delicious. You will not find any molecular gastronomy going on here, just superb ingredients treated with respect.

Surely in the 15 years of Almond’s success, there have been some noteworthy celebrity sightings or adventures. Both men mention the Clintons, who have dined there numerous times, celebrated birthdays there, and have had Mr. Weiner cater fund-raising events. But their favorite anecdote involved the night the Clintons had to cancel a reservation and said someone would pick up the order instead. Shortly after, in ambled a lone Bill Clinton, who settled himself at the bar to enjoy a Grey Goose martini. The to-go order arrived, but he enjoyed himself a while longer. When he departed, he went to every single table of guests in the restaurant, shaking hands and chatting with everyone. There’s also the time that Joy Behar met John Boehner, and he ended up putting her in a headlock. He was squiffy; she was amused.

The day after Mr. Striffler lost everything in the fire, portfolio, camera equipment, literally everything except his dog, Bugsley, Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Lem­onides, “Dude! Eric Striffler is the party! We’ll have a benefit!” Mr. Lemonides agreed, saying, “He’s part of the fabric of where we live. We are part of the community and the community is part of us.”

Happy eighth birthday to Rive and happy anniversary to Almond and the outstanding men who started it all. Tuesday, 7 p.m. Be there and you will see.

In honor of the restaurant’s anniversary, Mr. Lemonides and Mr. Weiner have invited patrons to share with them their favorite memories of the eatery, by sending a letter (to P.O. Box 635, Bridgehampton 11932), an email (to Jason@almondrestaurant.com), or posting on the Almond Facebook page. Each person who shares a remembrance will be entered to win a “super-deluxe” dinner for four. The winner will be announced on Tuesday. 

The cocktail party for Mr. Striffler will include passed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails featuring local wines and spirits, along with a silent auction. Tickets are $40 in advance or $50 at the door. 

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Like many other patrons, Bill Clinton appreciates the martinis, left, at Almond’s bar. Right, a photo of their first location.
Typically the mainstay of any great bistro, the steak frites at Almond, with original bordelaise or more recent au poivre sauce, is always worth a try.